Officials across US West ban fireworks amid historic drought

As many Americans look forward to traditional Fourth of July celebrations this year after coronavirus pandemic restrictions halted events in 2020, historic drought in the U.S. West has prompted officials to ban fireworks and once again cancel professional displays.

Fireworks, which are the ultimate tradition of the nation’s Independence Day celebration, also lead to thousands of fires each year. People setting off fireworks at home is of extra concern this year because of the tinder-box conditions ripe for starting wildfires. 

As a result, officials in several cities and counties have outright banned people from setting off their own fireworks — or at least are urging extreme caution — amid drought conditions combined with an extraordinary heat wave.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, personal fireworks were banned amid the record drought, though the city will still host a professional show. 

"Our foothills, open spaces, and even our yards and park strips are dry and could be ignited by a single spark, threatening life, safety, and property," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said, according to FOX 13

Just south in Eagle Mountain, city officials canceled their fireworks show given "persistent dry conditions, high winds, warmer temperatures and limited water resource.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he didn’t have the legal authority to enact a statewide ban on fireworks, though he thinks it’s "a good idea." Instead, he urged local governments to enact their own restrictions.

"Utah’s drought conditions are worse than most of us have ever seen in our lifetime," Cox said during a press briefing on June 17.

The extreme conditions have also led several cities in Oregon and Washington state to enact bans on the use of fireworks over the Fourth of July holiday.

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In Montana, county officials in Gallatin County voted unanimously to ban open burns, recreational fires and fireworks in Big Sky and West Yellowstone, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle

In North Dakota, where more than two-thirds of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst categories — some areas are passing local bans. In South Dakota, where conditions are somewhat less dire, the governor is fighting the federal government to hold a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore.

Many cities in Arizona have canceled their public fireworks shows as the state battles several current wildfires burning. The Yavapai-Apache Nation typically hosts a display outside its casino near the central Arizona city of Camp Verde.

"This year, with conditions being worse than last year, we decided in May that we would not have fireworks," said James Perry, a spokesman for the tribe’s Cliff Castle Casino Hotel. "Based on the large fires currently burning in and around our community, we’re happy with our decision."

Southwest Faces Worsening Drought Conditions

A dock, which has become unusable as worsening drought drops the water level of Lake Mead to new historic low records, is seen at South Cove near the upper reaches of the reservoir on June 29, 2021, near Meadview, Arizona. (Photo by David McNew/Getty

Fire authorities throughout California also have stepped up campaigns urging people not to use fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, citing both the explosive dangers and the threat of wildfires in the withering conditions.

"The fuels are bone dry," Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said. "We are extremely concerned about the use of fireworks of all kinds."

Fireworks already have caused a few small wildfires, including one started by a child in northern Utah and another in central California. Last year, a pyrotechnic device designed for a baby's gender reveal celebration sparked a California blaze that killed a firefighter during a U.S. wildfire season that scorched the second-highest amount of land in nearly 40 years.

Injuries also spiked in 2020 to their highest level in 15 years after the pandemic canceled large gatherings, federal data shows.

Fireworks industry professionals have noted a shortage in fireworks caused by pandemic-related manufacturing slowdowns and trade disruptions.

Youngstown, Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, the country’s largest consumer-based retail fireworks company, urged customers to buy their fireworks sooner rather than later amid the supply chain issues.

"Like many other industries, the fireworks industry has also experienced delays due to shipment challenges facing the global market," Alan L. Zoldan, executive vice president at Phantom, said in a statement.

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This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.